Tag Archives: science fiction

Scratchbuild case study: Mantis

The Mantis is a 1:12 scale VTOL aircraft I designed and built for a short film called Last Flight. The film was the final project for a filmmaking course I took several years ago.

mantis-front

Utilizing a sheet aluminum skin over a framework of copper tubing, the Mantis features spring-loaded landing struts and a vertically mounted fan to generate dust on touchdown. To stay within budget, found objects were used wherever possible. The engine bells are lighting shrouds from a camera supply store, and the main engines are hairspray cans. The one area where I spent a bit more money was the landing skids, which are solid milled steel.
mantis-rear-three-quarter

Film models are vastly different from typical display models. They’re designed to fit the requirements of a specific scene, so the emphasis is on function. The main requirements for the Mantis were going with a large enough scale so that the camera would hold depth of field during filming, and making the fuselage big enough to accommodate an electric fan. Filmed with an overcranked 16mm Bolex camera, the fan did a good job of blowing dust (cinnamon from the kitchen cupboard) all over as it touched down on the landing pad, and the scene came out looking fairly realistic.

Given the tight project deadline, I didn’t have time to detail the model. But as special effects guru Brian Johnson once said, “with all that smoke swirling about, you can get away with murder!” I used cinnamon instead of smoke, but close enough.

mantis-top

There was of course a pilot figure seated in the cockpit for the filming of the scene. I upgraded the cockpit later using an Italeri kit so the Mantis would make a respectable display model. As for the design of the ship, I saw it in a dream. I don’t remember what the rest of the dream was about, but I sketched out the basic shape as soon as I woke up, and worked out the details later. The sharply angled nose looks a bit like a Praying Mantis, hence the name.

-Ivar

Kitbash case study: Troop Transport

This is one of my first kitbashes. I was satisfied enough with the end result that I kept it in my collection and still have it after all these years. The front is the main hull section of the Rio Grande Runabout from Deep Space Nine, and the back consists of the service module and engines from Mattel’s Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter.
front-view
Mattel’s Eagle was impressive in size but hopelessly inaccurate. Despite my attempts to upgrade it from toy to scale replica, I was never able to get it to look like an actual Eagle. So I eventually ended up cannibalizing it for parts to create an original design.
rear-view
The Runabout kit which was available at the time had the right shape to complement the parts I was going to use from the Eagle. (I was never a fan of Deep Space Nine; in fact, it was probably the least memorable of all the incarnations of Star Trek. It lacked the magic Star Trek ingredient, which is having a starship capable of zooming around the galaxy to a different destination each week.)

So by combining parts from two unremarkable products, I came up with something which I was much happier with. I didn’t prepare so much as a sketch before beginning the build, and wasn’t really sure how it would turn out. But everything blended together fairly well, helped by judicious detailing and a uniform coat of spray paint.
The most challenging part of the build was the rear landing gear. A fair amount of strength was needed to support the weight of the model. My solution was to form both the left and right gear from a single steel rod. I ran it width-wise through the aft section and bent it into shape on each side. The landing pads were taken from a Lunar Models Jupiter II kit (the old vacuform kit which preceded the injection molded Moebius kit by many years).
side-view
The hull section of the Runabout was given a new cockpit canopy: a single piece of clear plastic bent to shape and silvered on the inside, suggesting an optical shield to guard the crew from radiation (not to mention it saved me from having to scratch build a canopy interior!). I also carved out a front landing gear bay on the underside of the Runabout’s hull and added the gear along with a vertical thruster.

The Troop Transport’s lack of windows reflects its utilitarian function. It’s designed to carry a large complement of troops and is devoid of any of the luxuries you’d find on a passenger craft. Entry and exit is through a door at the rear of the ship. Essentially it’s a space-going V-22 Osprey.
top-view
Having assembled and painted the Troop Transport, I put it aside and called it a day. But after displaying it on the shelf for a while, I realized the overall white paint scheme was a bit bland. Some bright red decals and a touch of weathering would give it more visual punch. Having just picked up a bottle of Solvaset decal setting solution, I was eager to see what it could do. So I applied some spare decals over various nooks and crannies. To my amazement the decals conformed perfectly regardless of how irregular the surface was. Solvaset is one of the stronger decal setting solutions and not all decals perform equally well with it. But in this case everything turned out nicely.

-Ivar

Kitbash case study – Eagle Gunship

While completing my Eagle Crash diorama, I decided to show the passenger pod door of the crashed Eagle ajar, suggesting that the door had been forced open due to electrical failure. This required buying a second MPC Eagle kit to obtain a “spare” door, after carving away the original door (the door is molded into the side of the passenger pod). The timing was right, since MPC had just re-released their Eagle kit with a much improved decal sheet which I was also able to put to use.

Having updated the crashed Eagle to show the door ajar, I was left with a box full of spare parts (almost enough to build another Eagle). I decided to try my hand at a new design. And so began the design and construction of the Eagle Gunship. But first, a bit of background on the Eagle.

The Eagle is the all-purpose workhorse of Moonbase Alpha, carrying passengers as well as freight. The producers of Space: 1999 never made its military capabilities very clear. In Season 1 of the series, Eagles were occasionally shown firing lasers from a point on the underside of the Command Module. And in Season 2, at least one Eagle was fitted with a retractable laser turret housed in the forward Service Module. These enhancements were obviously added as afterthoughts to facilitate specific storylines writers had come up with. Space: 1999 suffered from a notorious lack of consistency in terms of the technical features and capabilities of Moonbase Alpha and its associated hardware. The series would have benefitted from a technical guidebook similar to the one shared by Star Trek writers to ensure consistency.

Nevertheless, the Brian Johnson-designed Eagle remains a classic in the annals of science fiction, and the real star of Space: 1999. Fictional spacecraft often forego realism for visual appeal, but the Eagle succeeds on both counts. The design is practical as well as aesthetically pleasing, with a modular approach which invites customization. So, leveraging the strong DNA of this classic design, I decided to create an Eagle variant designed specifically for warfare.

The Eagle Gunship is armed with two forward mounted laser guns and two guided missiles. It features main and auxiliary forward propulsion engines, vertical jets for liftoff, and fixed landing skids set wide apart for stability. Access is via a door at the rear of the Command Module. The Gunship’s compact size optimizes the thrust to weight ratio and makes the ship difficult for the enemy to locate and track.

In addition to parts and decals from the MPC kit and landing skids taken from MPC’s Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter kit, the Eagle Gunship build utilized sheet styrene, sheet acrylic, Apoxie Sculpt, aftermarket resin missiles, and various odds and ends from the parts bin. The decals didn’t behave like regular decals. The film was thicker than normal and didn’t respond well to Solvaset. However they came out okay and were quicker than painting.

Nose Subassembly

Engine Subassembly

I had to make some changes to the design during construction. The two spars behind the Command Module were originally conceived as being much slimmer, but more surface area was needed to support the engines, fuel tanks, vertical jets, and maneuvering thrusters. So the spars ended up being wider than originally planned.

When the model was initially completed, it was front-heavy and leaned forward on the landing skids. Adding two auxiliary engines at the back of the ship (made of lead) made the model balance nicely.

After finishing the Eagle Gunship, I realized that it would make a great addition to the Eagle Crash diorama. It’s close enough visually to the other two Eagles to blend into the scene, and different enough to make viewers take a second look.

-Ivar

Thunderbird 2 and the “kits versus toys” conundrum

There is usually a clear dividing line between plastic kit manufacturers (like Tamiya) and toy producers (like Hasbro). As far as I know, Tamiya has never produced a toy and Hasbro has never produced a scale model kit.

But some companies make both kits and toys. Bandai, Aoshima and Takara Tomy fall into this category. The quality of kits produced by these firms tends to be less consistent than you’d find with a dedicated kit manufacturer. This isn’t surprising given that their primary target market is children.

It goes without saying that five-year olds have a vastly different set of criteria than adults do when it comes to hobbies. Some five-year olds like to put their prized possessions in the sandbox. Others like to chew on them. I’ve yet to see any adult modellers taking part in either of these activities (if you know an adult fitting this description, please take them to a psychiatrist immediately).

Takara Tomy recently introduced both a large toy of Thunderbird 2 from the new Thunderbirds Are Go TV series, as well as a “Real Kit” of the same subject in 1:144 scale. The former product is aimed squarely at five-year olds. It features opening sections, moving parts, a detachable pod with Thunderbird 4, and built-in sounds. This seems to be a well thought out product which kids should like.

The 1:144 Real Kit, however, has some shortcomings:
1. The kit is hard to distinguish from the toy. In fact, eBay listings for the two products are so similar that it’s hard to tell one from the other.
2. It is a snap together kit with a choice of stick-on markings or waterslide decals. These features indicate that the product is aimed at novice modellers.
3. Like the toy, the kit features a removable cockpit roof. This creates a huge gap at the bottom of the roof and ruins the scale look of the kit. Authenticity was obviously not a priority in the design of the kit.

Considering these compromises, it’s clear that Takara Tomy rejected the idea of a serious scale replica. Instead, the company attempted to create a product that would appeal to both children and adults. This was a mistake for two reasons.

First, the Real Kit is not sufficiently different from the toy in price or appearance. This may result in the two products cannibalizing each other’s sales.

Second, the Real Kit was designed under the assumption that most Thunderbirds Are Go viewers are kids. This fails to take adult viewers into account, who grew up with the original Thunderbirds series and are now enjoying the new reboot as a trip down memory lane. Many of these returning viewers are experienced modellers willing to pay top dollar for authentic kits of their favourite subjects. They have fond memories of the original Thunderbirds series and still admire all its wonderful hardware.

Takara Tomy would have been much wiser to follow the example of FineMolds, whose Star Wars kits set a new standard in quality for sci-fi subjects. Their enormously successful 1:72 Millennium Falcon which I discussed here is a case in point. The FineMolds Falcon was a rarity: a mass produced, high quality sci-fi kit aimed squarely at experienced modellers, with no compromises made to attract younger modellers.

In addition to compromising the quality of their kits, companies like Takara Tomy, Bandai and Aoshima also do a disservice to modellers by associating kits with toys. This tarnishes the image of scale modelling. Buying a kit from one of these companies is a bit like buying a stereo from a guy with a van parked in an alley.

But at the end of the day, having an average quality kit of the new Thunderbird 2 is better than nothing. Given the relatively low demand for sci-fi kits, we have to take what we can get. So if you decide to pick up Takara Tomy’s new Thunderbird 2, be prepared to do some extra work to get it up to standard. The basic shape of the kit looks accurate enough, and most of its shortcomings can be overcome with a little care. Just make sure to throw out the stickers. Or even better, mail them back to Takara Tomy with a note stating that scale modellers don’t use stickers!

-Ivar

Jedi Starfighter (1:20)

The Jedi Starfighter is Obi Wan Kenobi’s personal hot rod, a sleek delta wing fighter featured in Episode II of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

A reworked Hasbro toy with custom LED lighting, scratch built landing gear and a new paint job, the Starfighter is ready to transport Obi Wan to his next daring mission (just as soon as he’s finished his coffee).

-Ivar

Eagle crash (1:87)

The iconic Eagle from Space: 1999 is one of my favourite spaceships, and Brian Johnson’s masterfully orchestrated crash sequences were the inspiration for this diorama.

The crashed Eagle is a modified MPC kit (rebuilt spine and passenger pod, drilled out and reshaped thrusters on command module, accurized main engines). The Lab Pod Eagle is a Warp resin kit (built out of the box). The Gunship Eagle is my own design, a kitbash using MPC Eagle parts, aftermarket resin missiles, landing gear from the MPC Darth Vader Tie Fighter kit, and various other pieces from the spares box.

The repainted HO scale figures from Preiser fit the MPC Eagle perfectly, suggesting that the kit’s true scale is closer to 1:87 than 1:72.

-Ivar

Batmobile winterscape (1:35)

This diorama was inspired by the night scenes of the Batmobile stealing through snow-covered streets in Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1989). I liked the contrast of the Batmobile against the fresh white snow.

I used Bandai’s Batmobile, a white metal Batman figure, a kitbashed Miniart Ruined Garage, and roof trusses from a gantry crane kit. Everything else was scratchbuilt.

-Ivar